Monday, April 21, 2008

Chapter ten: "So you kick people in the head just because you get impatient?"

Previous Chapter

Calvin had a meeting to attend, so he left me in his office for the rest of the afternoon, a time I spent on his data access comm, running down background information that I thought might come in handy. I tried running background checks on Harmon Reed and Juliet Carlyle, the two Guards from Luna, but they were under a blackout, and Calvin didn't have enough clearance to get at their files. I tried a couple of access codes that I used to know, but they were long out of date. No surprise there.

When Calvin returned, he had that slightly glazed look of someone who had spent time trying to keep from falling asleep. "Interesting meeting?" I asked, and he gave me a dirty look.

"Budget review," he said. "Most of it was spent going over meal accounts. Somebody had the bright idea that City employees should be reimbursed for meal expenses, provided -- and this is the good part -- provided the meal is eaten during standard lunch hours, and outside of the normal range of City Center operations. Oddly enough, this has resulted in more late morning field work away from City Center. So now someone wants to make the policy apply only to amounts in excess of standard meal rates, with documentation required that there were no cheaper alternatives."

"This took two hours?" I asked, suppressing a grin.

"Oh no," he said. "There were four other items on the agenda. So the meal thing just took an hour and a half."

I shrugged. "Administrators may not know anything about police work," I told him. "But they know food. So they try to stick to what they know."

"Oh, crap," he sighed. "And speaking of food, let's go get some. We're supposed to meet Cheryl soon."

"Anything you say," I told him, and we left.


The restaurant was called The Chalet, I think, but the maitre'd pronounced it The Shallot. Maybe it was a joke. If so, it was a high priced joke; the place was one of the most expensive in the City. We got there a little early and passed the time in the bar.

The Chalet decor was polymonochrome, which was the posh decorating style that year. The rug, tablecloths, and wall hangings were of a new Lunar-import fabric with an electrically controlled tint, so the color of the place slowly shifted during the course of the evening. When we got there, it was a mild pink; by the time Cheryl arrived, it was approaching mauve.

"Hi guys," she said from behind us, just as we were finishing our drinks. We turned, and Calvin got a quick peck of a kiss as she extended her hand toward me. I shook her hand briefly, noting that she gave my palm a slight caress when she removed her grasp.

"Ed," said Calvin. "This is Cheryl Chiba. Cheryl, Ed Honlin."

Calvin's former fiance was wearing a cut-to-the-shoulders black form fitting dress, from which I guessed that she had been to The Chalet before, or at least knew about the shifting color scheme. Anyone wearing colors other than basic black or white would wind up clashing at some point during the evening. I guessed her age at early twenties, a little younger than I would have expected for Calvin, but she made up for it in sheer physical presence. She had the high cheekbones and brown eyes of a Eurasian mix that still showed some ethnic identity, unlike Luna, where the racial groups long ago vanished in a hybrid swarm. She carried herself with the controlled movements of someone who has had some sort of training in that regard, dance or gymnastics, perhaps even one of the martial arts, though I did not recognize any specifics. She was nearly as tall as Calvin, but slender, with the firm look of someone who kept thin by activity rather than anorexia.

All this I took in during the short time we took to get the attention of the maitre 'd, and on our walk to our table. I was not unaware of Cheryl's sizing-me-up glances as well. Calvin, I think, was oblivious.

After we had been seated and the water had been poured, the waiter gave us menus and asked if we wanted something to drink. We answered "no," so he left us to ponder our orders.

"Well, that's the last we'll see of him for a while," Calvin said, and Cheryl smiled.

She turned to me and said, "So, you're the mystery man who saved Calvin's life by kicking people in the head."

Calvin was sipping his water and gave a little strangled sound like he'd almost choked. He reached for a napkin (white, but it picked up the color of the entire room, which was by now nearly a royal purple), and held it in front of his mouth while he slowly turned red.

"I'm not sure about the 'saved his life' part," I told her. "Calvin is pretty good at taking care of himself."

She shrugged her bare shoulders and said, "Perhaps he embellished the tale a little. Still, it sounded like quite a fight."

Calvin had recovered his voice by now. "I told her about the lab raid, and how you took out the guy who was trying to pound my skull in," Calvin said, as if his telling her had violated a confidence.

It was my turn to shrug. "Calvin was wearing a helmet," I told Cheryl. "And the guy who did the pounding wasn't very good at mayhem. I think that Calvin would have handled it with more time. I was just impatient."

"So you kick people in the head just because you get impatient?" she said, still smiling, but the pupils of her eyes had grown larger, turning more of the brown centers of her eyes to black.

"Very rarely," I said.

"How fortunate for our waiter that you are so rarely impatient," she said, and we all laughed at this.

"Besides," said Calvin. "The guy lived."

Through most of dinner Calvin and Cheryl spoke of mutual friends and their past times together with the ease of old friends tempered by the reserve of the formerly passionate. Periodically, Cheryl would steer the conversation over to me, asking me about the way I lived, who I knew in Darkunder, how I went about my life. She confessed, with the attitude of one confiding secrets, that she found Darkunder both fascinating and repellent.

And if those occasional glances that she sent in my direction were speculative, she did not volunteer her speculations.

She left before dessert, kissing Calvin on the cheek and once more touching my hand in a parting gesture that lingered only for the briefest instant. After she was gone, Calvin looked over at me and shrugged helplessly.

"Still a little torched?" I asked him.

"A bit," he admitted. "It will pass, I expect. She's from a wealthy family, old money, I think it's called. Dating a cop was a bit of a rebellion. We're not special here on Venus. It's not like Luna."

"Cops are special everywhere," I told him. "High or low, it's all special. But she's one to cause problems, I think."

"You think right," he said, but he said no more about it and then our coffee came.

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